6. feb, 2019

The parallax view of the humanitarian world

 Willem van de Put, ITM health policy unit, co-founder Culture4Change

 Decent people are outraged about Haiti some seven years ago. Of course, this is triggered by a deeper sentiment - the unease we all have about the state of affairs in the world. In a western world, climate change, refugees and new values, a scandal in the humanitarian world helps reduce our capacity for selective morality. It works in two directions: never mind the abuse in the worlds of businessmen and UN peacekeepers, we are outraged because our idealized aid workers are having private money, but by our donations, our charity!

Is this a second chapter in the series on '  poverty porn'  that started almost four decades ago? True, not much has changed in the world of international emergency aid. It is parallax  because  it has not changed its outlook on a world that changes all the time. The same type of  advertisements are  not Oxfam but usefull  Save the Children  joins the ranks of NGOs with  apologizing chiefs  , while the modus operandi or sending expatriate specialists is not capable of keeping up. colonial connotations of  the white man's burden  .

Whether or not the critique is an example of selective morality, the fact is that the humanitarian world needs to be changed. The humanitarian system is broken for many reasons, and repairs are suggested. Prof. Spiegel recommends among other things, integrating the people whose lives are affected, in aid delivery and the rebuilding of national health systems, as well as redesigning leadership and coor dination mechanisms. He also advises making interventions efficient, effective, and sustainable. We tried to find evidence for effective interventions, But found it kettle to Achieve our goals, and one of the Reasons That was Hardly could we find the local voice in the extensiveness literature review we did on coordination and strengthening health systems in fragile settings.

Local voices are the ones who should legitimize the efforts in the relief sector, but they are expulsed, as Saskia Sassen formulates it. Imagine, if you will, those people who reside at the edge of a system (not necessarily a geographical edge). Exclusion would be the prevention of people outside of that system. Expulsion, however, is the act of those who are on the other side of the line. "That is what is going on in these settings or inequality: refugees are not seen as equals, and are denied the right to be in charge. People are expulsed - even from their own agency. Sexual abuse is a symptom: we know that sexual abuse  is about power more than it is about  sex .

Bottom line in this unsavory Oxfam story: NGOs need to stop being on the 'expulsing' side of the line. Serving refugees whose identity, dignity and agency is respected should be done by handing over control to them. It is no longer acceptable to put expatriates in positions where they can not be expected to deal with the obscene inequality in power. Include migrants and refugees in the design, implementation, management and accounting of relief work. Apologies of Capability and Corruption - and have probably never done. The 'humanitarian world' needs to wake up from its parallel reality, its slumber of neutral, impartial and independent "splendid isolation" - wake up and adapt to the realities of different value systems, political realities, growing remittance flows and real people.